Should a Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off and If So, When?

I hope the photo below doesn’t scare anyone away! It was actually taken a few weeks ago when I had MORE hair.

This past Tuesday I completed round 7 of chemo. It’s hard to believe I have made it this far. When I started chemo back in July, October seemed sooo far away and now here it is. Fall has always been my favorite season and this year I am loving it even more because it’s when chemo ends!

Before beginning chemo, my husband and I signed up for a chemo class at the hospital where I would be receiving it. We already knew quite a bit about chemo since my mother had it a couple of years ago, but when you are going to be having it yourself, suddenly you can never know too much about it.

At the class we received a packet full of information, watched a video and listened to a chemo nurse talk a bit about what to expect. Surprisingly, to me at least, somewhere in there she looked at me and said, “Nancy with the drugs you will be receiving you will definitely be losing your hair.”

I know she meant well and was only trying to prepare me, but the comment was unexpected and I felt unnecessary. I mean is there really anyone on the planet who doesn’t understand that chemo usually equals hair loss? “Yes, I am totally aware of that,” I managed to answer as if it would be no big deal to lose my hair.

Anyway, here I am post chemo session 7 and I still have some hair on my head! Granted, it’s not much, but there’s still some there. If  you saw the fairly recent Leonardo D’Caprio movie Shutter Island, I look like the creepy crazy woman with thin hair standing in the flower garden at the beginning of the movie when he arrives on the island. If you saw the movie and have had chemo, you know exactly who I’m talking about. I think there’s a message in there somewhere that if you have thin hair you are scary looking and I don’t think I like that message very much, but that’s a topic for another time.

Most chemo patients shave their heads as soon as hair loss begins or even before. It makes them feel more in control they say. Not me. I’ve hung onto my hair as long as possible. I lamented when it began to fall out in clumps and I still carefully pluck off strands from the back of my clothes as if saying goodbye to old friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have adjusted to having almost no hair amazingly well. I even walk around the house now without wearing anything on my head. My husband just laughs and says, “Oh, I got used to that a long time ago.” And my kids don’t care. Neither do the dogs. In fact, the dogs get more nervous, eying me suspiciously for a few moments, whenever I put a wig on. They truly don’t miss a thing; they totally know it’s fake hair and that I look slightly different. They prefer my “natural” look.

Does not shaving my hair off like most chemo patients make me weak, vain or just plain weird? Am I unable to face reality? Or did my defiant rebellious side kick in that day at chemo class? I don’t know or care.

I do know that when I am totally finished with chemo, I will shave off any remaining hair on my head so I can start over from scratch. Otherwise I’ll end up with some freakish mish-mash of length, color and texture that even I am not willing to deal with.

I guess the point of all this rambling is that you can and should do what you want about shaving your head. Shave it all off early or let it fall out slowly. You decide. It’s your hair, it’s your cancer and it’s your decision.

If you have had chemo, did you shave your head as soon as hair loss began? (or if you know someone who has had chemo, what did they do?)

Note: More information about chemotherapy is available in my book, Getting past the fear: A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy. For all your purchasing options, click on the book image below.


128 thoughts on “Should a Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off and If So, When?

  1. Hello Nancy, I have lymphoma and started losing my hair drastically after starting chemo. I found your blog looking for answers for “should I shave my head”. After reading I realised that it’s OUR cancer and OUR hair… Shave it if you want or leave it as is. I feel like I’m doing more to make people comfortable around me then for myself. Please do what you prefer

    1. Danny, You should absolutely do what you prefer! We all should. Sometimes I think there is pressure put on women to shave their hair off early on. If that’s what you want to do, fine. But like you said, it’s our cancer and our hair. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    2. You said that you feel like you’re doing more to make people comfortable than you’re doing for yourself. Living with cancer can be a balancing act. You really want to put yourself first, completely and totally. I sure did. But that makes it easy to push others away when you need them most. For that reason I went through my cancer experience alone. So I think it’s worth keeping in mind how much to put yourself first and how much to consider others.

      1. Andulamb, You are so right about putting yourself first. But still, we can’t completely push away (or annoy) our loved ones either, so each person must figure out that balance. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I had cancer in 1988 when I was in college. I distanced myself from my treatment as much as possible, had no connections with the cancer community, and therefore had no idea what was typical. So it never even occurred to me to shave my head. My hair started falling out and I just let the chemo take its course. My mom asked me if I wanted a hat, which for some reason irritated and offended me. But then she bought me one anyway and by that time I was happy to have it. Moms know best.

    I just looked at another web site that recommends that one should “take charge” and shave your head immediately. I say to do whatever you want to do. Shave or don’t shave. Wear a hat, a wig, or a scarf, or draw pictures on your bald head with a Magic Marker, or tie a pretty bow around your last few sad strands of hair, or just be proud of your scalp. This more than any other is your time, so do what you want.

    I don’t think shaving your head or not shaving your head says anything about you. I would hope those with cancer aren’t judging each other over such superficial things.

    1. Andulamb, I completely agree. I still get annoyed whenever I read that shaving one’s hair off early on is the best way to go. No, the best way to deal with chemo-induced hair loss, is to do whatever you darn please. Thank you for chiming in on this.

  3. Thank you for your blog and all the helpful comments. Getting my first chemo treatment in three days. Haven been contemplating/stressing over the hairloss/shave-your-head/wig conundrums. The clearest advice I got was from a friend who said “You get to do whatever the @#$%^T you want.” (Actual adult language omitted out of respect for readers–but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Still working to balance the grief and denial and hopefulness. And still trying to sort out what I think I want. Glad to have some additional perspective; I’m sure it will help guide me as I’m forced to finally face each decision. Thank you, again.

    1. Julie, You are dealing with a lot right now. I like your friend’s advice very much. You might wish to read my book as you begin chemo. It might help. I wish you all the best as your move forward with your treatment. There is a lot of processing and balancing to do. Luckily there is a lot of support from others who’ve been there. Thank you for reading and sharing. Good luck with chemo and everything else too.

      1. The same friend advised me after surgery to be sure not to do any vacuuming for at least five years. ;-) I’ll look into your book. Thanks again.

  4. I’m in that awkward mish mash of different lengths and textures stage. It made me giggle when I read that part! I chose to just leave my hair and now I have dry, longer hair mixed with soft, shorter hair growing out. My ends are so thin and the top of my head is getting thick again. I use extensions to fill out the bottom half. I keep wondering if my old dry hair (the leftovers that I didn’t shave off) is growing out or not…it’s so hard to tell! I hope so! Loved reading this! :)

  5. Nancy, thanks for your perspective. I am half way through my chemo and have not shaved my head. It’s pretty scraggly for sure, but I have the cutest little pony tail you’ve ever seen! I just didn’t agree with the idea that you’d have more “control” over the situation if you shaved. To me, it felt more like I was giving in. Any my sister said “You get to pick!” Love her to pieces!

    1. Kathy, I loved reading your comment! I felt the same way you do and sometimes because of this I also felt like I was doing the hair loss thing all wrong. Now I know better. You must be way smarter than me! Kudos to you for doing things your way. And kudos to your sister too. Love what she said to you. Just love it. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      1. I am so happy to have found this site. I thought I was stupid not shaving the few hairs I have left. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it . I had my last chemo 2 weeks ago (don’t know yet if going to have to do another round) and I didn’t know if I should have shaved the old hair in order for the new to grow in . I can feel a little stubble and it is white !!! I guess I’ll just cut the straggly stuff off and see what grows in. It is so nice to hear what others are feeling and doing….. Now I don’t feel so silly not wanting to shave my head .. I’m not alone ,I had not reached put before this . Thank You all for sharing ..

        1. Gail, You are not stupid at all. You are doing the hair loss thing your way. I did not shave my hair off until chemo was over for various reasons. I did sometimes feel I was doing it all wrong because as you know, your way and my way seems to not be the most common way this is handled. So be it I say. I did shave mine all off at the end of chemo because I wanted to start over from scratch. But there’s no rule that says you have to do it all. I’m glad you found my site too. It’s always nice to know we aren’t alone. Good luck to you with everything and thank you for sharing.

  6. Nancy, I did six rounds of TC chemo for breast cancer two years ago. I already had male pattern baldness so giving myself a buzz cut was not too much of a major change. I was starting to notice hair loss in the shower and that was when I decided to make the move. Seems like that was about three weeks after the first round.

    I first cut it so that it was a bit fuzzy and surprisingly that hung in their for a goodly amount of time. My guess is that there was little chance of tugging on it to pull the hair out at that point. So they stuck around for a bit.

    I’m 100% with the “do what ever you want” on this front. Everyone is different and they need to sort out what feels best for their own needs. Good thoughts to all.

    1. Dennis, There really is no other way to do this stuff other than your own way. You are so right about that. Thank you for sharing. Hope you’re doing alright these days.

  7. During the consultation my doctor told me that the chemo chemical cocktail I was going on would have hair loss. So I waited until just before and shaved my head with the help of my brother. I have always kept my hair short soot wasn’t such a big step but then despite the treatments so of it started growing back. It looked like baby peach fuzz and at first it didn’t bother me but it got to be three or four inches in some places and a quarter inch in others so I shaved again. When I told a nurse over the phone what I had done she told me if I kept doing that someof my hair might not grow back at all later. Is that true or was she pulling my leg?

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